When Ibrahim (as) famously left Hajar with their baby son in the desert, she asked him, if Allah (swt) had commanded him to leave them. He said yes, so she said that she trusted Allah (swt) would take care of them.
Her response to the situation illuminated a middle path between two extremes we commonly see.
One extreme is pessimism. A person may simply give up and lose hope. After scanning the horizon and seeing no food, water, or any sign of civilization, it would be easy to sit down and do nothing. People with a negative mindset will focus on all the things wrong in this situation – there’s no food, we’ll probably die here – and overwhelm themselves with hopelessness.
The other extreme is naive optimism. It is sitting there doing nothing, while telling yourself that everything will work out. Or perhaps to simply ‘envision’ a better situation and hope it will arrive.
Hajar demonstrated what true optimism looks like.
The action of her heart was to trust Allah (swt) and have faith that He would make a way out. The action of her limbs was to do everything in her control to remedy the situation. No food? Then she will run back and forth between mountains looking for something to give her child.
She set a precedent that embodies the Prophetic tradition: “Tie your camel, and then trust in Allah (swt).”
When it comes to the Sunnah of the Prophet (sa), we rarely talk about mindsets. The Sunnah of optimism helps us in dealing with the major and minor difficulties in our lives.
It’s amazing to think that the Prophet (sa) was tested more than anyone else, and yet, his default expression was always smiling.
True optimism provides the resolve to deal with difficulty.
When we look back at the most difficult moments of our lives, we actually cherish them. Those hardships, failures, and scars are what made us into who we are today. They made us stronger and provided lessons so invaluable that we would never trade them for anything.
This is easy in hindsight, but harder to do when situation is in front of you. The example of the Prophet shows us how to cultivate a mindset of optimism.
He (saw) warned against giving up on people: “Whoever says the people are destroyed, he is the most destroyed amongst them.” (Muslim) And Allah (swt) says in the Quran: “So do not become weak (against your enemy), nor be sad, and you will be superior (in victory) if you are indeed (true) believers.” (Aal-Imran 3:139).
Despair is easy to feel almost by default. Every time we turn on our phones, we are bombarded with headlines, photos, and videos of injustices that make it seem, as if the world is going down the tubes. The lens of the believer necessitates understanding that our faith in Allah (swt) means knowing Allah (swt) is the source of all that is good, and He will never decree something in which the evil outweighs the good – even if that good is reserved for the Akhirah.
Even in the direst circumstances, the Prophet (sa) would look for excuses to be optimistic. When the Muslims set out for Umrah and were blocked by the Quraysh, the situation was tense. Negotiators kept coming but no agreement could be reached. Finally, the Quraysh sent Suhayl bin Amr, and the Prophet (s) took this as a good sign. The name Suhayl has a connotation of ease, and so the Prophet (s) announced to his companions that this was a good sign. Eventually, the treaty of Hudaybiyah was agreed upon – a victory in and of itself, even if it seemed to be giving in to the demands of the Quraish at the time.
Prophet Muhammad (sa) engineered the environment around him to be one that instils optimism. When he met someone from a place called the Valley of Misguidance, he renamed it the Valley of Guidance. This shows us that even the way we refer to things has a subconscious effect on us. When his (saw) grandson was born, Ali (ra) named him Harb (war). The Prophet (s) changed his name to Hasan (good).
He encouraged his companions to always be of those spreading good to others. He instructed them to give glad tidings, and not to scare people away; make things easy, not make things difficult.
The most important optimism is the optimism in Allah (swt). The Prophet (s) relates to us that Allah (swt) said: “I am as my servant expects me and I am with him as he remembers me.” If you believe that Allah (swt) intends to make your life difficult, or that He is vengeful toward you, then that is what you will get. If you believe that Allah (swt) loves His creation and intends what is best for them, and wants to forgive them, then you will find Allah (swt) as such.
When we inevitably encounter difficulty in our lives, we must tackle them and work our hardest to deal with them. We must remind ourselves in those moments that ultimately everything will work out for the best, because we know that what Allah (swt) decrees for us is good and He will give us the strength and ability to make it through.
“Our Lord! Punish us not if we forget or fall into error, our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which You did lay on those before us (Jews and Christians); our Lord! Put not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Pardon us and grant us Forgiveness. Have mercy on us. You are our Maula (Patron, Supporter and Protector, etc.) and give us victory over the disbelieving people.” (2:286)